#TrumpsComingChallenge: Destroying demagogues in the digital age

Are social media challenges the new propaganda poster?

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Charlie Chaplin ended his 25-year-stretch of silent films when he began recording the damning political satire The Great Dictator in 1939.  His mad, marching, moustachioed fictional dictator Hynkel allowed Europeans to laugh at the real mad, marching moustache threatening their world.

So too, in 2016, has the silent and still era of the #MannequinChallenge paved the way for the greatest, loudest, and most chaotic political mockery of our times: the Trump Is Coming Challenge.

It works like this. Students – or anyone really, but it is mostly students – casually go about their days until someone shouts the words: “Trump’s coming!”. Anyone within earshot of this warning siren then (literally) drops everything and begins scrambling, as fast as they can, away from America’s new president-elect. With the appearance of a star in the sky, a hashtag is born, and teenagers around the world are encouraged to follow suit with the #TrumpsComingChallenge.

“The whole idea was to have some fun, but Trump is a very scary guy to kids of our age because we don't want our families to get split up,” the hashtag’s 16-year-old creator, Emi Chavez, told the BBC.

Like Chaplin’s Hynkel-Hitler, then, the social media challenge is both funny and significant. We have always targetted our enemies with mockery, and thanks to the internet, we no longer need big budgets and camera crews to make our voices heard. The young, ethnic minority students of Trump's America can demonstrate their genuine fears about his presidency in a few seconds of film, and also have fun doing it.

Enter Operation #TrumpCup. While the left run away from the demagogue overtaking their world, the right run into the warm embrace of the coffee corporation Starbucks, and demand the name “Trump” be written on their lattes. Why? The operation began after a Starbucks employee was filmed refusing to put the word “Trump” on a customer’s cup of coffee. In order to spread light on this serious issue, Trump supporters across the land are asking baristas to scrawl the president-elect’s name across their beverages.

According to hashtag tracker Keyhole, over 65 million people have seen the hashtag #TrumpsComingChallenge in the last few days. Just over 2 million have seen #TrumpCup in the same time. A new kind of war is being waged. Meme war. We shall fight them with our reaches.

In all seriousness, there is no denying that both of these hashtags are a new kind of propaganda, similar to the grossly caricatured posters of Hitler that papered the west in the Forties, but with one key difference – anyone can make them. There is no doubt that in the four forthcoming years of Trump's presidency an abundance of silly-but-somehow-meaningful memes will be born. The #TrumpsComingChallenge is a very clear indicator of the sentiment among many students who fear for their features. Though it has none of the charitable undertones of the #IceBucketChallenge before it, it should still be considered significant.

Also, did we mention? It's really funny. 

Amelia Tait is a freelance journalist, and was previously the New Statesman's tech and digital culture writer. She tweets at @ameliargh

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